Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on 00, 0000 @

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri bristles with originality. It's an absurdist extravaganza, but it's grounded in conviction and reality.

It sends its audience sprawling. It swerves past our preconceptions.

Most films today are formulaic, but Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri loves to set us up, and then avoid our expectations. It makes us alert and challenges us.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is the tale of a woman (Frances McDormand) seeking justice for her teenage daughter's rape and murder, but the savage crime has not been solved by the local authorities in Ebbing. So the woman, Mildred Hayes, purchases space on three billboards and accuses the police chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of dereliction of duty.

The accusatory billboards are on a nearly deserted road, but they become a cause celebre in Ebbing. The film is about all the different people who are caught up in Mildred's pursuit of justice, with her as provocateur.

Much of the appeal of the film is due to the mastery of the actors. The film has odd couples galore. Despite their wackiness and foibles, the characters are memorably human. And the gifted actors enhance that.

There's not a moment of falsity in the acting, even when the characters are acting falsely. They're always on point, even if the characters are bent.

Frances McDormand is a force of nature as the vengeful, independent Mildred. Mildred is sardonic, witty, and incorrigible. McDormand captures her brash thoughtfulness with endearing aplomb.

Woody Harrelson has become a wonderful actor of more range than many viewers realize. He imbues his character of the embattled sheriff with a palpable core of decency. Both Mildred and Willoughby have canny intelligence.

Sam Rockwell has a tour de force role as police officer Jason Dixon, an addled racist with a violent streak, who lives with his mother. Dixon is a character who evolves, although near the end he still is perplexed by such questions as which country has sand. But his evolution is convincing. [He could nip Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying for the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.]

Director/screenwriter Martin McDonagh has an Oscar for Best Short Film (2006). This time out, he may be a contender for Best Picture.

I wasn't a fan of In Bruges (2008), but Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is right in my wheelhouse.

McDonagh is a heady necromancer with Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. He counts on some actors he has worked with before. Harrelson, Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, and Zeljko Ivanek were in Seven Pyschopaths (2012). There's a feeling in Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri of a comfortable ensemble.

McDonagh keeps the o in his title in lower case, perhaps to see how many writers will change it. Almost all do.

But McDonagh has a mind and sensibility of his own. It's a mixture of moods. Amidst the rancor and violence in the film, there are small moments of kindness. Instead of squashing it, Mildred turns over an insect that is struggling on its back, a character gives another orange juice, another holds a ladder.

In the world of McDonagh, we need support. And the sheriff becomes an ironic source of support. He also later offers positive advice to a previously inadequate underling.

McDonagh has written several scenes of galvanic conversation. A priest visits Mildred's home and receives her wrath. Mildred on a date earns an angry response. Mildred and her many adversaries have confrontations of conflict and wit. But she also talks quietly to a deer grazing in front of her. She is a woman of many tones.

But equally important is what is not said.

McDonagh leaves Three Billboards open at the end. What will happen to two characters' quest? What happens to vengeance?

In Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, creativity prevails.

The road is still open.

Where will we take it?

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin